Signing with your baby is widely recognised to be a fantastic way to help your baby understand the world around them from a very young age.
Being able to communicate with your baby – and have them communicate back with you – using non-verbal communication methods of gestures, facial expressions and body language is the key to removing frustration and unnecessary upset for your little one, as they can tell you what they want or need long before their speech is developed enough for them to clearly articulate to you verbally. It closes the gap between your baby’s desire to communicate with you, and their ability to do so. Practising signs with your baby is a great way for you to strengthen your bond with each other, as your baby will learn to look straight at you when they want to communicate. They will have a greater amount of eye contact with you, and they will be more attuned to your body language and gestures, too. It is reported that babies can begin to use signs to tell you what they want from as young as 9 months old, with the average age of consistent use being around the 12-14 month point. Additionally, using signs with your baby has been proven to support their early speech.
I have downloaded 4 or 5 apps so far for my research into using signs, but I have found the most reliable and clear resource to be the webpage british-sign.co.uk. They have an extensive online dictionary, in which you can search for almost any sign you can think of! They also have a featured word of the day (we get excited when it’s an animal and ‘duck’ was a particular highlight). I’ve bookmarked their homepage for the daily sign.
Where to begin?
I was inspired by a very dear friend of mine, who is a Mama to 2 wonderful children of her own, to commence a signing journey with my little one when he was just starting out on solid foods and routinely sitting in his high chair for meals at around 7 months old. I must admit that I was not consistent at the start of our journey, using signs once per day as opposed to at all 3 meals and during playtime, bath time etc. We have always used nursery rhymes with signs, just to help little one understand that gestures have meanings. To successfully teach your baby signs, you will need to use them as often as you possibly can! Experts say you can begin in earnest from around 5 months old when motor skills are developed enough for signing back, but don’t expect immediate results. Their wonderful little brains are storing up all the information and putting it together, piece by piece. The average time for a 6-9 month old baby to learn a sign is 4-6 weeks.
As quite an impatient person, I definitely fell foul of being disheartened in the early days. Just think of the ‘normal’ first words or gestures for a baby – normally ‘mama’, ‘dada’, or ‘hi’ sometimes accompanied by a wave. These are words and gestures that we must say hundreds of thousands of times to our babies before they have the skills to recreate a sign, or repeat back to us. I recommend a healthy dose of patience if you are anything like me.
Our first signs
I have chosen signs mainly based around the high chair and meal times, as we’re big foodie lovers in our household and have a nice dining table that is level with the high chair, and we try to eat together as a family as much as possible. This is my starting list of signs:
As the weeks have ticked past and little one is on his feet and trying to climb in / on everything and empty every shelf in sight, I have added these to our personal dictionary:
So, any success thus far?
Well, we are currently 3 weeks in to our dedicated sign journey where I am using signs at every opportunity rather than just when I remember. I have noticed that little one bangs the high chair tray table with his open palm facing down for ‘more’, which I have claimed as our first partial sign! Although ‘more’ is a flat palm brought down onto a closed fist, I have noticed that he uses half of this gesture to signify when he wants more. The proof being in the pudding, as he always eats more when I give him more food after he has made this gesture. Additionally, just in the last few days, I have noticed that he opens and closes his fingers into a recognisable fist-shape for ‘milk’. However, he has only made this sign when I am holding him and the milk is in sight, for example, in his bottle on the dining table. He has not attempted it whilst sat in the high chair or any other environment yet.
Our signing journey continues – stay tuned and make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram to see which signs we make next. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. Have you ever used signs with your baby?